February 24, 2022

Arnie Alpert: New ‘Red Scare’ in N.H. Has Roots a Century Old

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New Hampshire is considering an update to their Cold War era teacher loyalty law, which may now expand to criminalize other “indoctrination.” This piece from In Depth NH looks at the historical roots of the law.

Much has already been written about the “teacher loyalty” bill expanding on one based on the extreme anti-communism of the Cold War era.  HB 1255, still in the hands of the House Education Committee 4 weeks after it was discussed at a public hearing, would prohibit teachers from advocating “subversive doctrines” by expanding a 1949 description of banned doctrines.  In addition, it specifies, “No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America.”  That would include, but not be limited to, “teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”

To understand the roots of HB 1255, it’s helpful to go back to a time decades before McCarthyism.

During World War I, crackdowns on dissent focused on German sympathizers and anti-war activists.  But after the war and the Russian Revolution, suspicion shifted smoothly to anarchists and communists, especially immigrants from eastern Europe.  Although federal wartime laws enabling the jailing of activists such as Eugene V. Debs were no longer valid, dozens of states stepped into the void.  According to historian Robert Murray, “by the year 1921, there were thirty-five states plus two territories (Alaska and Hawaii) which had in force either peacetime sedition legislation or criminal syndicalist laws, or both.”

New Hampshire was no exception.  According to historian David Williams, A. V. Levensaler, who headed the new Concord office of the Bureau of Investigation (later to be renamed the FBI), drafted the state’s sedition law, which was adopted by the legislature and signed by Governor John Bartlett in March 1919.  The law made it a crime to “advocate or encourage by any act or in any manner” the overthrow or change of government of the United States, the State of New Hampshire, or any of the state’s subdivisions.  In addition to criminalizing such advocacy in public or private settings, the law banned the publication, distribution, and possession of any printed or written material, including pictures, deemed to be of seditious intent.  Any such materials were to be seized and destroyed.

Another section of the law made it a crime to advocate, incite, or encourage “the violation of any of the laws of the United States, or this state, or any of the bylaws or ordinances of any town or city therein.”

The penalty for violation was up to 10 years in jail, a fine of up to $5000, or both.

Read the full piece here.

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